Two men in love with the same woman. And, according to some reports, with each other as well. All living together in a 55-room mansion in the hills. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, as Kathrine Bates’ gripping drama “The Manor” so skillfully reveals.

Set in Beverly Hills’ majestic Greystone Mansion, where many of the events actually unfolded, the play chronicles the launching of what developed into a national scandal, an infamous bribery trial and a double homicide.

It is the 1920s, and a friendly group has gathered in the living room of this magnificent home to celebrate the wedding of young Ned Doheny (Shawn Savage), only son and heir of mining magnate Edward Doheny (Darby Hinton) to the beautiful Lucy Smith (Shelby Kocee). (Because this is a fictionalized presentation, the time frame has been altered and the family name changed to MacAlister, but the sequence of events, ambiguous as they are, is based on the facts reported at the time.)

Off to one side of the living room, silently participating in the festivities, is the audience, some 80 theatergoers who are soon divided into three separate groups and prompted by a cast member to follow along to another room in the mansion.

As the action progresses, the groups pass each other in the long, echoing hallway on their way to successive scenes of the play. And with each scene the characters become better known and the plot thickens.

One subplot involves the long-time relationship between young Abby MacAlister (the bride of Sean MacAlister, introduced in the earlier wedding scene) and Sean’s friend and secretary (and lover?) Gregory Pugh (Grinnell Morris).

Simultaneously, Sean’s father, Charles MacAlister is having clandestine meetings with a prominent politician to acquire the drilling rights to a massive oil reserve owned by the government. The politician acquiesces without opening the project to alternative bids and subsequently “borrows” $100,000 from his friend, MacAlister.

When the politician is implicated in another similar action which develops into the notorious Teapot Dome scandal, MacAlister and his “loan” become embroiled in the legal proceedings that follow. MacAlister’s loan is perceived as a bribe, his reputation is tarnished, and the family’s downhill slide begins.

Kathrine Bates, who plays MacAlister’s long-suffering wife, Marion, is as adept an actress as she is a playwright, and she and director Beverly Olevan keep the action moving and the excellent ensemble cast credible and appealing.

Bates, who, along with David Hunt Stafford of Theatre 40, has been producing “The Manor” for the past decade, was the writer and director of last season’s Theatre 40 hit “The Color of Rose.” She and Stafford produce “The Manor” for Theatre 40 in association with the city of Beverly Hills Recreation and Parks Department.

“The Manor” will be presented on July 26-27, Aug. 1-3, 8-9, 15-17, and Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. and Aug. 28-30 at 1 p.m.

The Greystone Mansion is located at 905 Loma Vista Dr. in Beverly Hills. Call (310) 694-6118 for reservations.

 

 

Cynthia Citron can be reached at ccitron@socal.rr.com.

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